Kenneth Roth

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Kenneth Roth
Kenneth Roth MSC 2018 (cropped).jpg
Roth during the MSC, 2018
Born (1955-09-23) 23 September 1955 (age 64)
Nationality America

Kenneth Roth (born 23 September 1955) is an American attorney who has been the executive director of Human Rights Watch since 1993.

Early life[edit]

Born in the United States of America, Kenneth Roth, a graduate of Yale Law School and Brown University,[1] said that he was drawn to human rights causes through his family ties. He said that his father would keep his three young sons quiet as he cut their hair by telling tales of their grandfather's butcher shop in Frankfurt, Germany. Roth stated that as they grew older, his father told them about living under the Nazis as a young boy and fleeing Nazi Germany in July 1938.[2]


Jimmy Carter's introduction of human rights as an element of US foreign policy in the late 1970s further inspired Roth to take on human rights as a vocation, Roth has said.[3]

Kenneth Roth, 2008.

Prior to starting at Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 1987, Roth worked in private practice as a litigator and served as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and the Iran-Contra investigation in Washington DC.[4]

During the early years of his work in human rights movement, Roth focused on the Soviet imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981.[5]

Roth joined Human Rights Watch in 1987 as deputy director. His initial work centered on Haiti, which was just emerging from the Duvalier dictatorship but continued under military rule. Since then, Roth has travelled internationally on behalf of Human Rights Watch.[6]

His biography on the HRW website says he has "special expertise on: issues of justice and accountability for atrocities committed in the quest for peace; military conduct in war under the requirements of international humanitarian law; counterterrorism policy, including resort to torture and arbitrary detention; the human rights policies of the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations; and, the human rights responsibilities of multinational businesses."[7]

Roth has published numerous articles, newspaper op-eds, and articles in academic journals, including "Domestic Violence as an International Human Rights Issue", in Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives;[8] "The Case for Universal Jurisdiction";[9] "The Charade of US Ratification of International Human Rights Treaties";[10] and "The Law of War in the War on Terror - Washington's Abuse of Enemy Combatants"[11] His Twitter handle is @KenRoth.

In September 2007, Roth gave a lecture entitled "The Dynamics of Human Rights and the Environment" at the University of San Diego's Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series. Roth frequently addresses audiences around the world, including at the United Nations in New York,[12] universities[13] and conferences, including the Munich Security Conference[14] and the World Economic Forum in Davos.[15]

Human Rights Watch[edit]

In 1987, Roth was hired by Aryeh Neier to be deputy director of HRW and since 1993 (when Neier left to become head of George Soros' Open Society Institute), Roth has been the organization's executive director.[4]

Under Roth's leadership, Human Rights Watch has grown eight-fold in size and vastly expanded its reach. It now operates in more than 80 countries.[16]

During Roth's tenure, Human Rights Watch has documented war crimes in Bosnia,[17][18] the Democratic Republic of Congo,[19] Iraq[20] and Sierra Leone.[21] Human Rights Watch researchers have testified at international tribunals. The organization has also done extensive work on child soldiers. Human Rights Watch published reports on Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, Peru's Alberto Fujimori[22] and Chile's Augusto Pinochet,[23] among others, who were subsequently convicted for crimes against humanity.

As a founding member of the International Campaign to ban Landmines, in 1997 Human Rights Watch shared the Nobel Peace Prize for helping bring about the Mine Ban Treaty.[24][25]

Following WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's arrest, Roth stated that Assange's prosecution in the United States for publishing leaked documents is "a major threat to global media freedom."[26]

In 2020, Roth was denied entry to Hong Kong, before the publication of a report that was critical of the Chinese government.[27]

Criticism and controversies[edit]

Under Roth's leadership, Human Rights Watch has been criticized for perceived biases and misconstructions.[28][29]


On December 17, 2009, 118 scholars from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, México, the UK, the US, Venezuela and other countries publicly criticized HRW in an open letter to the HRW Board of Directors in response to an HRW report, A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela.[30] The report was criticized for bias against the government of Venezuela and its President, Hugo Chavez, stating that it "does not meet even the most minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy, or credibility."[31] One of the letter's authors, Hugh O'Shaughnessy, accused HRW of using false and misleading information, and said the HRW report was "put together with the sort of know-nothing Washington bias..."[32] Kenneth Roth responded, stating that the letter misrepresented "both the substance and the source material of the report."[33]


Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah, of Rwanda's New Times newspaper, questions Roth's impartiality and equates his criticism of Rwanda's human rights record to a "love affair" with the "genocidaires" that carried out the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.[34]

"As a western human rights personality [Roth]…will always fail to understand the intricacies and complexities surrounding the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. Wrapping it up simplistically the way he has done will only serve to undo the gains already registered in driving the very delicate process of bringing forth a new dispensation in Rwanda and by extension the African Great Lakes region," Oluoch-Ojiwah wrote.[35]

Allegations of anti-Israel bias[edit]

Kenneth Roth has been criticized by the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor for allegedly being biased against Israel. Gerald M. Steinberg has been a long-time critic of Roth's role as head of Human Rights Watch from 1993. Writing in a 2004 Jerusalem Post article[36] in response to Roth's op-ed in which Roth accused NGO Monitor of disregarding basic facts, "fictitious allegations of bias" and a "fantasy-based discourse" which "does a deep disservice to Israel".[37]

In August 2006, during the war between Hezbollah and Israel, Roth rejected criticism of HRW's allegations against Israel, writing in a letter to the editor of The New York Sun: "An eye for an eye — or, more accurately in this case, twenty eyes for an eye — may have been the morality of some more primitive moment. But it is not the morality of international humanitarian law which Mr. Bell pretends to apply."[38] In response, the head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) referred to Roth's rhetoric as a reflection of "classic anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews".,[39] arguing that disproportionate retaliation was justified and necessary against Israel's Arab enemies, and that Israel's actions in the war were justified as legitimate attacks on military targets against an enemy using human shields.

In reaction to Richard Goldstone's recantation of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict report, HRW Founder Robert Bernstein said to the Jerusalem Post in April 2011, referring to Roth, that it "is time for him to follow Judge Goldstone's example and issue his own mea culpa."[40]

An analysis of his tweets by NGO Monitor, alleges that Kenneth Roth shows "significant levels of sarcasm, vitriol, and deep-seated hostility" towards Israel.[41]

On April 26, 2015, Roth drew criticism for attacking Israel for sending humanitarian aid to Nepal during the April 2015 Nepal earthquake, due to its blockade of Gaza, which he saw as a humanitarian crisis of "Israel's own making".[42]


The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has taken issue with the credibility of Roth's accusations that Ethiopia's government is corrupt and uses international aid funding for "repressive purposes."[43] The EHRC accused Roth of impartiality caused by a desire to "appease…wealthy financiers." It cited his evaluation of the Democratic Institution Program (DIP) as "superficial" and said that his allegations of corruption were based on "poor methodology." EHRC also called Roth's recommendations a "contradiction" that called "for the promotion of human rights at the expense of human rights programs and their implementers." [44]

Syria and Iraq[edit]

Kenneth Roth said that there was "sectarian" and "violent" persecution by Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and Roth said that the locals were not being alienated by ISIS[45] Foundation for Defense of Democracies Deputy Director for Research Oren Kessler criticized Roth's tweet as the "Worst tweet ever".[46] Kenneth Roth said that "Assad's atrocities" are being stood up to by ISIS.[47][48]

Kenneth Roth said that the Syrian revolution was deliberately being poisoned by the June 2011 setting free of Zahran Alloush by Assad.[49] After the death of Zahran Alloush, Kenneth Roth said that it was an attempt to level the field to only ISIS or Assad as part of a plan by Assad.[50][51]

In October 2019, Roth said that Turkey and its allies have previously unlawfully killed, arbitrarily arrested, and wrongfully displaced civilians and the 2019 Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria operation risks repeating these abuses unless they take steps now.[52]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • City of Athens Democracy Award, 2016[53]
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, Brown University, 2011[54]
  • Doctor of the University, University of Ottawa, 2010[55]
  • Doctor of Laws, Bowdoin College, 2009[56]
  • William Rogers Award, Brown University, 2009[57]
  • Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award, Tufts University, 2004[58]

Published articles[edit]

  • "Putin's Miscalculation", Foreign Policy, October 5, 2012[59]
  • "No Safe Haven?", Foreign Policy, May 26, 2011[60]
  • "New Laws Needed To Protect Social Media", Global Post, April 14, 2011[61]
  • "Falling for Empty Talk on Human Rights", International Herald Tribune, January 21, 2011[62]
  • "Eat, Drink Human Rights", Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2011[63]
  • "9/11 Justice for New Yorkers," Guardian, November 16. 2010.[64]
  • "Canada no longer leads on human rights," Ottawa Citizen, October 15, 2010.[65]
  • "The Abusers' Reaction: Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations, and Institutions," Brown Journal of World Affairs, Spring/Summer 2010.[66]
  • "Empty Promises? Obama's Hesitant Embrace of Human Rights," Foreign Affairs, March–April 2010.[67]
  • "Geneva Conventions Still Hold Up," Foreign Policy in Focus, Dec. 30, 2009.[68]
  • "Don't smear the messenger," Jerusalem Post, Aug. 25, 2009.[69]
  • "Death Squads: A Murderous Plague," Far Eastern Economic Review, May 20, 2009.[70]
  • "The power of horror in Rwanda," Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2009.[71]
  • "Justice or impunity: What will Kenya choose?" East African, April 3, 2009.[72]
  • "G20: The summit must not forget human rights,", April 2, 2009.[73]
  • "Ballots and Bullets," New York Times Book Review, March 22, 2009.[74]


  1. ^ "National Security in a Turbulent World - Yale Law School". Retrieved 2019-05-29.
  2. ^ "The Stephen A. Ogden Jr. '60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs". Brown University. 2014-10-09.
  3. ^ Kenneth Roth (2007-12-31). "Re: Who are you? | Kenneth Roth". Big Think. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  4. ^ a b "Kenneth Roth Biography". The University of Winnipeg. Retrieved 9 September 2009.
  5. ^ Roth, Kenneth; Orentlicher, Diane (2009-09-09). Repression Disguised as Law: Human Rights in Poland (9780934143158): Kenneth M. Roth: Books. ISBN 978-0934143158.
  6. ^ More by Kenneth Roth (1992-03-26). "Haiti: The Shadows of Terror by Kenneth Roth | The New York Review of Books". Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  7. ^ "Kenneth Roth | Human Rights Watch". Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  8. ^ Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives, University of Pennsylvania Press (1994) edited by Rebecca J. Cook, ISBN 0-8122-1538-9
  9. ^ The Case for Universal Jurisdiction, Foreign Affairs, 2001
  10. ^ The Charade of US Ratification of International Human Rights Treaties, Chicago Journal of International Law, Fall 2000
  11. ^ The Law of War in the War on Terror - Washington's Abuse of Enemy Combatants (2004)
  12. ^ Karam, Zeina (September 28, 2015). "At UN event, speakers call for end to Syria barrel bombs". Yahoo News.
  13. ^ "Human rights advocate Kenneth Roth to deliver Ogden Lecture". Brown University. October 2, 2014.
  14. ^ "A focus on the collapse of the international order - The 51st MSC in light of current crises and conflicts". Munich Security Conference. January 12, 2015.
  15. ^ "Video: Kenneth Roth urges countries to respect human rights". World Economic Forum. February 4, 2015.
  16. ^ Pitt, Brad. "Thunder on the Rights". The Hive. Retrieved 2019-05-29.
  17. ^ "War Crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina (Volume I) | Human Rights Watch". 1992-08-01. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  18. ^ "War Crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina (Volume II) | Human Rights Watch". 1993-04-01. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  19. ^ "Casualties of War | Human Rights Watch". 1999-02-01. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  20. ^ ""Genocide in Iraq - The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds" | Human Rights Watch". 2006-08-14. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  21. ^ "Sierra Leone: Taylor at War Crimes Court | Human Rights Watch". 2006-03-29. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  22. ^ "Peru: Fujimori Verdict a Rights Victory | Human Rights Watch". 2009-04-07. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  23. ^ "Chile: Pinochet Finally Faces Torture Charges | Human Rights Watch". 2006-12-01. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  24. ^ "The Nobel Peace Prize 1997". Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  25. ^ "Human Rights Watch History | Defending Human Rights Worldwide". 2001-09-11. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  26. ^ "The Assange prosecution threatens modern journalism". The Guardian. 12 April 2019.
  27. ^ CNN, Nectar Gan. "Human Rights Watch head says he was denied entry to Hong Kong". CNN. Retrieved 2020-01-13.
  28. ^ "Human Rights Watch | Defending Human Rights Worldwide". Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  29. ^ Goldberg, Jeffrey. "Does Human Rights Watch Understand the Nature of Prejudice?" The Atlantic. 21 September 2014. 21 September 2014.
  30. ^ Human Rights Watch, 22 September 2008, A Decade Under Chávez
  31. ^ Mark Weisbrot,, 11 March 2009, Who is America to judge?
  32. ^ Hugh O'Shaughnessy, New Statesman, 26 September 2008, HRW v Chavez
  33. ^ "Human Rights Watch Responds to Criticism of Venezuela Report | North American Congress on Latin America". 2009-01-05. Retrieved 2013-01-28.
  34. ^ “Rwanda: Is Kenneth Roth in Love With Genocidaires?” by Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah, 26 April 2010,
  35. ^ “2nd Open Letter to Kenneth Roth: Rwanda will not be a political play field”, by Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah, New Times.
  36. ^ "Israelis Have No 'Human Rights'" by Gerald M. Steinberg, March 8, 2004, The Jerusalem Post
  37. ^ "The truth hurts" By Kenneth Roth, Apr. 1, 2004, The Jerusalem Post
  38. ^ 'Getting It Straight' The New York Sun, July 31, 2006.
  39. ^ 'No Accident' New York Sun by Abraham Foxman, August 2, 2006.
  40. ^ "At 88, a man of morals starts over". The Jerusalem Post -
  41. ^ Ken Roth's Immoral Anti-Israel Obsession and the Gaza War September 04, 2014, NGO Watch
  42. ^ "Kenneth Roth: What's Wrong With You? - Avi Taranto - The Blogs - The Times of Israel". The Times of Israel.
  43. ^ “Letter to Kenichi Ohashi, Ethiopia Country Director for the World Bank” by Kenneth Roth, 17 December 2010
  44. ^ “EHRC Response on Human Rights Watch Reports on Ethiopia”
  45. ^ Roth, Kenneth (11 Jun 2014). "Iraq crisis: Syria overshadows revival of ISIS". Twitter.
  46. ^ Kessler, Oren (16 Jun 2014). "Worst tweet ever?". Twitter.
  47. ^ Roth, Kenneth (30 Dec 2014). "In Battle to Defang ISIS, U.S. Targets Its Psychology". Twitter.
  48. ^ AbuKhalil, As'ad (December 25, 2016). "Can you imagine Kenneth Roth justifying the appeal of Al-Qa'idah as he does here by saying it stands up to atrocities of US and Gulf regimes?". The Angry Arab News Service/وكالة أنباء العربي الغاضب.
  49. ^ Roth, Kenneth (30 Dec 2015). "The Death of Zahran Alloush". Twitter.
  50. ^ Roth, Kenneth (25 Dec 2015). "Powerful Syrian Rebel Leader Reported Killed in Airstrike". Twitter.
  51. ^ AbuKhalil, As'ad (December 25, 2016). "The theories of Kenneth Roth about Zahran Alloush: is Kenneth Roth a joke or what?". The Angry Arab News Service/وكالة أنباء العربي الغاضب.
  52. ^ "Turkey/Syria: Civilians at Risk in Syria Operation". Human Rights Watch. October 11, 2019.
  53. ^ "Athens Democracy Award: Athens Democracy Forum 2018". Retrieved 2019-05-29.
  54. ^ "Human rights crusader to deliver 2011 Baccalaureate address". Brown University. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  55. ^ "Article: Roth, Kenneth". The University of Ottawa. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
  56. ^ "2009 Honorands". Bowdoin College. Archived from the original on 22 June 2011. Retrieved 15 December 2010.
  57. ^ "Service to Society: 2009 Honoree Highlights". Brown Alumni Association. Retrieved 15 December 2010.
  58. ^ "Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award/Series". Tufts University. Retrieved 15 December 2010.
  59. ^ Roth, Kenneth. "Putin's Miscalculation". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2019-05-29.
  60. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2011-05-26). "No Safe Haven?". Foreign Policy.
  61. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2011-04-14). "New Laws Needed To Protect Social Media". Global Post.
  62. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2011-01-21). "Falling for Empty Talk on Human Rights". The New York Times.
  63. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2011-01-23). "Eat, drink, human rights - Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  64. ^ Roth, Kenneth (November 16, 2010). "9/11 justice for New Yorkers". The Guardian. London.
  65. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2010-10-15). "Canada no longer leads on human rights". Archived from the original on 2010-10-18. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  66. ^ "".
  67. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2010-03-01). "Empty Promises?". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  68. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2009-12-30). "Geneva Conventions Still Hold Up". FPIF. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  69. ^ Wistrich, Robert S. (2009-08-25). "Right of Reply: Don't smear the messenger". Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  70. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2009-05-19). "Philippine Death Squads: A Murderous Plague | Human Rights Watch". Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  71. ^ Roth, Kenneth (April 11, 2009). "The power of horror in Rwanda". Los Angeles Times.
  72. ^ "News |Justice or impunity: What will Kenya choose?". The East African. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  73. ^ Roth, Kenneth (April 2, 2009). "G20: The summit must not forget human rights". The Guardian. London.
  74. ^ Roth, Kenneth (March 22, 2009). "Ballots and Bullets". The New York Times.

External links[edit]